Money is violence
Our system of money visits violence on people.
Economic sanctions are an obvious example:
In case you’re not video enabled, here’s a transcript of a portion of the conversation between 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl and Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright on May 12, 1996:
Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: ‘We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?’
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: ’I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.’
What Stahl and the ghastly gasbag Albright are discussing are the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq allegedly in order to compel Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait and pay reparations, but more likely the unstated plan was to induce the people of Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam.
Economic sanctions are the weaponization of money. Government talking heads call this “soft power,” because apparently arranging for the slow, wasting death by starvation and disease of hundreds of thousands of children is a lot nicer than bombing them or sending soldiers to terrify and shoot them.
Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz had a particular gift for expressing the barely repressed beliefs of the most reprehensible people in the country. According to Wikiquote, Butz said two memorable things while Secretary, one was the tasteless, racist joke that got him fired, the other was the following:
Food is a tool. It is a weapon in the U.S. negotiating kit.
In one of the most brutal examples of the use of this technique, the Israeli government, with the complicity of the US government have for years kept the Palestinians’ economy in Gaza “on the brink of collapse.” As the Israelis kept the economy from performing, they made a “calorie count” to “put Gaza on a diet.” Israel’s sanctions and periodic bombings of Gaza have largely destroyed Gaza’s water infrastructure and “hundreds of thousands of people are now without water.”
There can be no doubt that the diet devised for Gaza — much like Israel’s blockade in general — was intended as a form of collective punishment, one directed at every man, woman and child. The goal, according to the Israeli defense ministry, was to wage ‘economic warfare’ that would generate a political crisis, leading to a popular uprising against Hamas.
While these are shocking, overt uses of the power of economic systems, there are more subtle and refined means of using economic power to coerce and subjugate peoples that are often brought to bear. Economic sanctions, by depriving people of their means of survival through the manipulation of money and goods is a means of an elite asserting control over a population. While these techniques are used as a tool of foreign policy or in tandem with wartime goals, this is far from the only situation under which these techniques are used by elites.
Class War and the Existential Leash
Mainstream economists tell us that our capitalist system is an efficient way of distributing goods and services. Our system of money allegedly allocates resources to people as they need and want them. These mainstream economists often sing the praises of markets as promoting freedom. Within mainstream thought, the accumulation of money has an association with positive morality noted across a spectrum of opinion ironically from the atheist Ayn Rand to devout Christians influenced by Calvinist thought.
The obvious problem with the mainstream assessment of our capitalist money system is that there are too many people who do not get enough of their survival needs met. Some say that this is a failing of the system that is corrected by private charity and government redistribution. Unfortunately, this is incorrect. The failure to distribute survival needs is by design. It was built into the system of modern market capitalism when it was being created and shaped by an assortment of moral philosophers, economists, merchants, rich people, government elites and other ne’er-do-wells.
At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the would-be industrialists were in need of a large pool of compliant labor. The obvious choice for that labor pool, the peasants were largely self-sufficient and could cobble together a fairly decent subsistence through farming, hunting and barter. Quite understandably, the peasantry was resistant to giving up their way of life to become wage slaves.
The industrialists understood that to create this labor pool it would be necessary to make the peasant’s way of life impossible. So in connivance with the government they drove them off of the land and destroyed their means of livelihood. They enacted legal structures like enclosure laws and game laws which forbade the peasantry to hunt for food. They also engaged the religious elite in demonizing the peasants as lazy, indolent and immoral.
In a review of Michael Perelmen’s, The Invention of Capitalism, Yasha Levine highlighted some quotes from Adam Smith’s contemporaries that are indicative of the attitudes of the creators of capitalism:
John Bellers, a Quaker ‘philanthropist’ and economic thinker saw independent peasants as a hindrance to his plan of forcing poor people into prison-factories, where they would live, work and produce a profit of 45% for aristocratic owners:
‘Our Forests and great Commons (make the Poor that are upon them too much like the Indians) being a hindrance to Industry, and are Nurseries of Idleness and Insolence.’
The real, as it were, “money quote” Levine presents, though, is this one:
Patrick Colquhoun, a merchant who set up England’s first private ‘preventative police’ force to prevent dock workers from supplementing their meager wages with stolen goods, provided what may be the most lucid explanation of how hunger and poverty correlate to productivity and wealth creation:
Poverty is that state and condition in society where the individual has no surplus labour in store, or, in other words, no property or means of subsistence but what is derived from the constant exercise of industry in the various occupations of life. Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilization. It is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.
There is the dirty little secret of capitalism, which has been known since the inception of modern market capitalism and whose methods of maintaining poverty for the class of people required to toil for the benefit of the ruling class have been continually refined ever since. It explains the 1%’s undying hostility to the welfare state and social benefits like unemployment insurance. The 1% believes that a desperate workforce that will accept less than satisfactory wages is necessary for profits and growth.
Scarcity is created by manipulation. There is enough to go around.
Americans live with great contradictions. Many live without access to survival needs like water and sanitation when they live in the midst of some of the greatest freshwater resources on earth. Food and shelter are abundant yet many Americans are deprived of adequate food and shelter. America has the resources to provide excellent health and dental care for all of its citizens – yet millions are fenced out. America could provide an excellent education to all citizens, yet many get far less than that.
These conditions are not naturally occurring, they are imposed systematically by a governance system that is charged with serving all of the people but really serves only an elite few. The system allows a rentier class to stand between the people and their survival needs and use the distribution of them as a means of profit and social control.
The elites in control of markets and governments will never allow poverty to end, because the system depends upon the vast majority of us being kept upon an existential leash, forever threatened with a mortal shortage of survival needs if we don’t comply with the demands of the market masters.
There is no real “War on Poverty,” there is only the class war.
Foreign wars control the domestic population
A recent article shows that the US government has spent good money after bad on a new fighter jet that has been an enormous, expensive failure:
Americans Have Spent Enough Money On A Broken Plane To Buy Every Homeless Person A Mansion
Just days before its international debut at an airshow in the United Kingdom, the entire fleet of the Pentagon’s next generation fighter plane — known as the F-35 II Lightning, or the Joint Strike Fighter — has been grounded, highlighting just what a boondoggle the project has been. With the vast amounts spent so far on the aircraft, the United States could have worked wonders, including providing every homeless person in the U.S. a $600,000 home.
These sorts of articles pop up frequently since waste, fraud, abuse and a simple inability to account for spending are endemic in the US military. While it is often noted that the US greatly overspends on “defense” and what that spending would pay for if it were spent on real domestic priorities rather than imagined wars of the future and current wars of choice, the real reason for the overspending was laid out by George Orwell in his book 1984:
The primary aim of modern warfare … is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society. …
From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy, and disease could be eliminated within a few generations. And in fact, without being used for any such purpose, but by a sort of automatic process — by producing wealth which it was sometimes impossible not to distribute — the machine did raise the living standards of the average human being very greatly over a period of about fifty years at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries.
But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction — indeed, in some sense was the destruction — of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which WEALTH, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while POWER remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.
The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed. … In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage. It is deliberate policy to keep even the favoured groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another.…
War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society.
Thus war is a tool for controlling the folks at home as much if not more than those exotic, swarthy jihadis that we pursue abroad with million dollar missiles. America has been left hanging on Eisenhower’s “cross of iron” by the governing elites.
Are you free?
I recently came across this article by Slavoj Žižek, which raises some interesting questions. It’s an article about the Wikileaks revelations, but Žižek takes it in an interesting direction, discussing the tools of control that are used by states:
It is not enough to see WikiLeaks as an anti-American phenomenon. States such as China and Russia are much more oppressive than the US. Just imagine what would have happened to someone like Chelsea Manning in a Chinese court. In all probability, there would be no public trial; she would just disappear.
The US doesn’t treat prisoners as brutally – because of its technological priority, it simply does not need the openly brutal approach (which it is more than ready to apply when needed). But this is why the US is an even more dangerous threat to our freedom than China: its measures of control are not perceived as such, while Chinese brutality is openly displayed.
In a country such as China the limitations of freedom are clear to everyone, with no illusions about it. In the US, however, formal freedoms are guaranteed, so that most individuals experience their lives as free and are not even aware of the extent to which they are controlled by state mechanisms. Whistleblowers do something much more important than stating the obvious by way of denouncing the openly oppressive regimes: they render public the unfreedom that underlies the very situation in which we experience ourselves as free.
Back in May 2002, it was reported that scientists at New York University had attached a computer chip able to transmit elementary signals directly to a rat’s brain – enabling scientists to control the rat’s movements by means of a steering mechanism, as used in a remote-controlled toy car. For the first time, the free will of a living animal was taken over by an external machine.
How did the unfortunate rat experience its movements, which were effectively decided from outside? Was it totally unaware that its movements were being steered? Maybe therein lies the difference between Chinese citizens and us, free citizens of western, liberal countries: the Chinese human rats are at least aware they are controlled, while we are the stupid rats strolling around unaware of how our movements are monitored.
In America we celebrate our freedom. However, in ways that are largely opaque to us, our economic reality is manipulated by everything from elite market rigging, secret trade deals, back-room deals with powerful lobbyists, a seemingly unstoppable and corrupt banking sector, and an unstoppable military-industrial-congressional-complex, among other factors.
Their influence is such that we experience corruption-fueled economic downturns, drastic unemployment, shortages of essential public services, decay of infrastructure, poverty, hunger, homelessness, lack of adequate medical care and a host of other problems as forces of nature, much like the weather – which, incidentally, is also likely being made worse in an opaque fashion by our elites’ priorities.
So, how free are we really?